Union Protests Hiring

Highway superintendent is under fire again

    A grievance against East Hampton Town filed on behalf of union members who work in the town Highway Department alleges that the highway superintendent’s hiring of two temporary workers violates a clause in the Civil Service Employees Association contract limiting the use of nonunion workers.
    “Whenever an outside contractor is hired, they need to get an approval,” and a determination that the work could not instead have gone to a union member, Sergio Diaz, a regional labor relations specialist with the C.S.E.A., said this week.
    Scott King, the highway superintendent, said yesterday that he had hired the workers on a per diem basis to assist with traffic management and safety assurance for 11 days while highway workers repaved various town roads. “I had everybody that we have,” on the project, he said. “Every single one of my people was out. If the C.S.E.A. has a list [of per diem workers] that I could pick from, I would be happy to do it,” he said.
    The union remains unsatisfied with the response to complaints last year by several workers against Mr. King alleging workplace harassment, including alleged abuses relating to his “language, physically striking an employee, and racist things that were said,” Mr. Diaz said this week.
    The complaints were lodged with Pat Breen, the town’s director of human resources. Her son, Ted Breen, was one of the two workers Mr. King hired. Dell Cullum was the other.
    Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said this week that town officials’ response to the allegations was appropriate, and that the board had reacted within the legal constraints of its authority, as Mr. King, as highway superintendent, is an independently elected official.
    “We did an immediate investigation,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “Pat Breen and Carl Irace [a town attorney] reported back to the board. The board did take what they thought was an appropriate action.” Citing privacy policies on personnel matters, he declined to say what was done.
    “Elected officials do harbor certain rights that regular employees do not,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “I’m satisfied, with the help of outside counsel, that we did exhaust all that we could do. Am I satisfied with that? No.”
    According to Mr. King, the town board suggested he attend four management-skills seminars, which he completed. Speaking by phone on Tuesday, he said he was attending a fifth that day, voluntarily, as he found them instructive.
    “We are conducting an investigation into Mr. King and his actions,” Mr. Diaz said on Tuesday. The union plans to take the results of its own investigation into the harassment complaints to the board to press for further action, he said.
    In addition, he said he expects that the complaints against Mr. King that were lodged with the town will also be filed “very, very soon” with the New York State Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau. “The town has allowed it long enough,” he said of alleged bad behavior.
    “The town board basically said they can’t do anything, because he is an elected official, but he is still an employee of the Town of East Hampton,” said Mr. Diaz.
    “We’re gathering our facts and information so that we can make a complete ‘confrontation,’ if you would have it, because we think the Town of East Hampton needs to answer some serious questions here,” Mr. Diaz said. 
    “This is one side of a story,” Mr. King said this week. “That’s all they are — allegations. I was never given any proof of any allegations. I think they’re baseless. I think they’re petty, and meant for a reason, and it’s political,” he said. “Evidently they’re not happy unless I’m out of office. They have an agenda.”
    Mr. King was recently nominated by the Democratic Party to run for re-election in the fall. As highway superintendent, he said he has had to cope with “excessive absenteeism and tardiness,” as well as budget and staff cutbacks.
    Mr. Diaz, the union representative, said East Hampton’s union will actively support Mr. King’s Republican opponent, Stephen Lynch.
    “I invite him and Heath Liebman [the town C.S.E.A. chapter head] to come down to my office with any complaints that they have. I’d be more than happy to talk about it,” Mr. King said yesterday.
    The hiring of Ted Breen, who was taken on initially as a seasonal worker at the Parks and Recreation Department, concerned members of the town board when they saw his name on a resolution formally approving his employment, which was slated for a vote at a meeting last month.
    Mr. Breen had already begun working for the department, and the resolution was to appoint him retroactively. The measure was pulled from the agenda, which ended his Parks Department employment.
    It also prompted the board to implement a non-nepotism policy, requiring that familial relationships be disclosed, and that the board be made aware of them before new hires.
    “It’s really important that the head of that department — especially in that department — gives an appearance of non-preference,” Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said Tuesday about Ms. Breen, as head of the personnel office.
    There is no need to have an outright ban on the hiring of town workers’ relatives, he said, “as long as they disclose.”
    (Last Thursday, the board approved a resolution naming a number of young people as town lifeguards for the season, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley’s daughter, Doris Quigley, among them. Ms. Quigley recused herself from the vote, and board members noted that the no-nepotism policy was followed.)
    Mr. King said Tuesday that in seeking to temporarily hire outside workers, a common practice when extra help is needed, such as for snowplowing in the winter, he consulted a list of independent contractors used for snow removal. Only one, Mr. Cullum, was available, he said.
    He then went to Ms. Breen, whose office at one time maintained a list of potential workers who had been used as temporary labor during the fall leaf-pick-up season, but she no longer had the list, as the town has dropped that service.
    However, Ms. Breen said yesterday, in answering a question from Mr. King about the new no-nepotism policy, which had just been distributed to town department heads, she described the situation regarding her son.
    Mr. King called him later that day to see if he could come to work. “We were under the gun. I needed people to help out,” he said. 
    “There was no collusion between her and myself to hire her son, to help in an investigation that was done a year ago, and was completed,” the highway superintendent said.